Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was something of a rock star in his day. While classical music is usually not not chart-topping in the 21st century, Mozart stood out from the crowd in his day because of the breadth and mastery of his music.

Though he “was not a revolutionary musician,” as Britannica editors wrote, he “wrote in all the popular genres of his time, and he excelled in every one.”

Mozart’s legacy lived on in his successor, Ludwig van Beethoven — another one of the “greats.” Both these musicians escaped being cursory footnotes in the history of music and instead, they propelled forward as icons.

There are plenty of stars who this could apply to, like Tina Turner or Journey, but for our purposes, we are looking at three musicians whose careers have or perhaps will fit this bill: Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Taylor Swift.

Using these three artists as a case study, we asked the question: what makes a star larger than life? Here’s some patterns we saw.

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Trendsetting styles are vital to stardom

Becoming a global megastar requires a recognizable image. Elvis pioneered the bold stage look, the Beatles roused fans with their shaggy, moptops and Taylor Swifts’ style is so iconic she accidentally sparks trends.

Elvis Presley fancied bubble-gum pink getups, applied mascara like a pro, embellished with lace and showed off his navel in cropped shirts.

Presley redefined what it means to be a global megastar. Curating an iconic, identifiable image is vital to stardom.

“Seeing Elvis’ wardrobe connects people to him in a way that a guitar or gold record doesn’t,” Graceland’s vice president of archives and exhibits Angie Marchese told CNN.

“He created an image that has gone on to shape and define generations. An image that still endures today.”

Elvis Presley holds a guitar with Chips Moman standing at American Sound Studio in Nashville, Tennessee.
Elvis Presley holds a guitar in this undated photo released by Sony Music, with Chips Moman, right, at American Sound Studio in Nashville, Tennessee. | Associated Press

Presley’s legendary image paved the way for rock and pop legends such as David Bowie, Prince and the New York Dolls. He pioneered “glam rock” through gender-fluid styles such as his famous pink, rhinestone-studded jumpsuit designed by Nudie Cohen.

“The flamboyance of Elvis’s stage-wear liberated men to wear clothes that were more outrageous than they had worn since the 19th century,” says British tailor Edward Sexton, per Esquire.

Elvis’ bold fashion sense continues to inspire musicians. Bowie took jumpsuits to the extreme with outrageous proportions and embellishments. Heavy eye makeup was part of the New York Doll’s signature look and Harry Styles fancies himself somewhat of a modern-day Elvis through his appreciation for sequins and androgyny.

“I think (for) the people I have always admired and looked up to in music, clothes have always been a big part of the thing. Like Bowie, Elvis Presley. It’s always been part of the thing,” Styles told Dazed magazine.

Styles is right. Megastardom requires a recognizable “look.” Whether that be Nirvana-esque grunge or ’80s hair metal bands style. You can thank Elvis for that.

The Beatles kept their stage style simple — sharp suits, white shirts and leather Chelsea boots — it was their moptop hairstyle that caught the most attention.

The Beatles, from left, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and George Harrison, are shown in this November 1963 photo.
The Beatles, from left, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and George Harrison, are shown in this November 1963 photo. | Associated Press

“The Beatles display a few mannerisms which almost seem a shade on the feminine side, such as tossing of their long manes of hair,” wrote pop psychologist Joyce Brothers, per Smithsonian Magazine. “These are exactly the mannerisms which very young female fans appear to go wildest over.”

Once named “Arthur,” by George Harrison, the unconventional style ripped through the unremarkable cropped hair style popular during the era. To get the look? Simple, “stay in bed and grow out your hair,” said John Lennon, per Vogue.

Guys began trading their tidy, close-cut hair styles for Beatles moptops.

Many adults weren’t keen on look. “This ridiculous style brings out the worst in boys,” said a English school headmaster, per Smithsonian Magazine. “It makes them look like morons.”

The Beatles’ groundbreaking hair style cleared the way for the Ramones’ bowl cuts, Liam and Noel Gallagher’s copycat haircuts and even Justin Bieber’s long-haired flow, which dominated the 2010s.

Taylor Swift’s blonde bangs have become an essential part to her signature look, but they aren’t taking the fashion world by storm the way the Beatles’ moptop did.

Compared to other pop-stars, Swift’s stage style is relatively tame. Her looks are rarely eccentric or polarizing. Still, Swift’s style influence is ridiculously powerful.

In April, Swift went out to dinner in a pair of butterfly cutout jeans. Within a matter of days, the $700 pair of jeans were sold out online and the style’s sudden popularity prompted loads of similar, more affordable designs, per Best Products.

In “You’re On Your Own, Kid,” Swift mentions friendship bracelets. “So make the friendship bracelets / Take the moment and taste it,” she sings.

To the untrained fan, this line is rather unremarkable. For a Swiftie, this line presents an opportunity to be more like Swift — through making and wearing friendship bracelets.

Swift fans decorate themselves with loads of friendship bracelets as a symbol of Swiftie fandom. The bracelets feature Swift’s song titles, lyrics or album eras. During concerts, fans trade the bracelets amongst each other.

The trend is so widespread at A-list celebrities such as Jennifer Garner, Channing Tatum and Nicole Kidman are taking part.

“It’s a nice way for us all to be connected,” an Eras Tour attendee told the Hollywood Reporter. “It’s great to see the staff get into it and for everyone to have a good time bonding over their love for Taylor Swift.”

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The lyrical genius behind the icon

We can’t help falling in love with the lyrics blended with the voice of the King of Rock ’n’ Roll. There’s no surprise that Presley had “over 150 different albums and singles certified gold, platinum and multiplatinum,” creating a fan base of women like never before, per Graceland.

His image only added to the captivating vibrato that transcended out of Presley’s mouth when he sang his romantic ballads to his audience. “When I first saw you with your smile so tender, my heart was captured, my soul surrendered,” from his hit “It’s Now or Never,” caught girls across the nation in a love conundrum with the hound dog from the wrong side of the tracks.

“The easy-to-relate-to relate to words and infectious melodies of his timeless hits” caused millions to be affected by Presley’s songs, per Goodnet. Performing his lyrics in concert as well as on show gave Presley a little more conversation and a little more action — turning his fame insurmountable. Alexis Chaney wrote in Vox his heartthrob predecessor, Frank Sinatra, could have never done.

Like a bug buzzing around your ear or a lyric you can’t get out of your head, the Beatles had a way to keep you hooked on their songs as well.

The Beatles’ Paul McCartney , left, lets Ed Sullivan examine his violin-shaped Hofner bass in the Ed Sullivan Theater prior to the group’s appearance on Sullivan’s variety show on Feb. 9, 1964. From left are McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and Sullivan.
The Beatles’ Paul McCartney, left, lets Ed Sullivan examine his violin-shaped Hofner bass in the Ed Sullivan Theater prior to the group’s appearance on Sullivan’s variety show on Feb. 9, 1964. From left are McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and Sullivan. | Rudi Blaha, Associated Press

The boys from across the pond were not your typical lyricists, and none of the band members could actually read or write music. “They were what Hollywood composers called ‘hummers’ — as in ‘you hum the tune and I’ll play it.’” per Medium. “They applied a ‘catchiness’ test on every new song. Could they remember the tune at their next session? If not, they abandoned work on it. Only memorable melodies would survive the ruthless jukebox jury of teenage radio listening.” 

Like Presley, “Beatlemania exploded internationally as a result of the group’s televised performances on the American “Ed Sullivan Show” in February 1964, the first of which on Febr. 9 garnered a record-breaking 73.9 million viewers,” according to the Museum of Youth Culture.” Whether it was something in the way they moved or the ability to make their own fans want to twist and shout, the Beatles’ lyrics felt uplifting.

One personal tribute was McCartney’s hit song “Hey Jude,” which he wrote for Lennon’s son, Julian, during his parent’s divorce. The lyrics read, “And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain, don’t carry the world upon your shoulders,” allowing fans to connect to their own adversities and have “the courage to change the things you can and the patience to accept the things you cannot,” per Ultimate Classic Rock

Although the beloved tribute song is a fan favorite and deemed one of the top 10 songs the Beatles ever wrote by Rolling Stone, it failed to win any of the three Grammy awards it was nominated for. But awards aren’t everything, “‘Hey Jude’ topped the charts in Britain for two weeks and for nine weeks in America, where it became the Beatles’ longest-running No. 1 in the U.S. singles chart as well as the single with the longest running time,” per The Beatles.

Men aren’t the only ones capable of captivating audiences with their iconic lyrics.

Swift has shown she’s the man with her ability to create “nine No. 1 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart,” per American Songwriter. Starting with her debut song “Tim McGraw” in 2006 to a record-breaking Era’s Tour in 2023, Swift’s impact on the music industry has proven to be timeless.

“She has a terrific ear in terms of how words fit together,” per The Harvard Gazette. She has the talent “of writing songs that convey a feeling that can make you imagine this is the songwriter’s own feelings.”

Taylor Swift performs during the opener of her Eras Tour on Friday, March 17, 2023, at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Taylor Swift performs during the opener of her Eras Tour on Friday, March 17, 2023, at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. | Ashley Landis, Associated Press

In 2022, while receiving her Songwriter-Artist of the Decade award at the NSAI’s 2022 Nashville Songwriter Awards, Swift shared some insights into how she creates her memorable and relatable song lyrics.

Her writing process falls under three categories:  “Quill Lyrics,” “Fountain Pen Lyrics,” and “Glitter Gel Pen Lyrics.”

“I came up with these categories based on what writing tool I imagine having in my hand when I scribbled it down — figuratively. I don’t actually have a quill. Anymore. I broke it once when I was mad,” Swift said in her speech, per The Hollywood Reporter.

She continued, “Writing songs is my life’s work and my hobby and my never-ending thrill.”

Her lyrics simply never go out of style, and her 12 Grammys are proof of that.

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The Presley Phenomenon, Beatlemania and Swifties

In a world that can’t even agree on which direction a toilet paper roll should hang, it’s hard to believe these celebrities have appealed to so many different crowds. The Presley Phenomenon, Beatlemania and Swifties are terms used to show an agreement of one type: mass celebrity infatuation. There are some things these famous figures did to earn such wide-spread love.

They offered something new to the music scene. 

For Presley, radio stations had a hard time classifying him because of his sound, music news publication Grammy reported.

He was greatly influenced by the jazz and blues of the 1950s, along with popular Black artists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe and B.B. King, Entertainment Weekly reported, and even said on television that the origin of rock ‘n’ roll was “essentially a blend of gospel and rhythm and blues, crediting the Black music styles that led to his own success.”

His music wasn’t explicitly country, or blues or pop — it spoke to people beyond the barriers of genres, which happened similarly to the Beatles.

Certain songs from the Beatles “had a hint of harmonies and melodies more inventive than standard rock tunes,” The Washington Post reported, adding that they “were hipper, more complicated,” than other competing rock stars.

Their music came at a time of war, including the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 and the Cold War, but you weren’t able to tell without the lyrics. They “were expanding the range of rock, musically and lyrically. A sitar — a harpsichord effect — a ragtime piano — everything was possible,” the Post said.

Swift offers something past and present musicians may have a hard time competing with: stage presence.

This is manifested in the success of Swift’s 2023-2024 music tour dubbed the Eras Tour, which has been “credited for boosting local economies in the U.S. and is on track to become the highest grossing tour of all time,” according to CNN.

“With a massive crew of band members, backup dancers, backup singers, 16 costume changes and dynamic elements and props that go with each song, shipped to each tour stop on a fleet of semitrucks, the event is a production,” the Deseret News has previously reported.

And while some stars steer clear of controversial topics, these celebrities had at least one instance where they used their platforms to show their beliefs.

Regarding politics, Presley sat with former President Richard Nixon to discuss his views on the status of America. The Beatles voiced their opinions through music, often addressing war or drug-use in songs. Likewise, some of Swift’s most popular hits address her opinion of current issues.

While this may have polarized fanbases at times, one of the ways these celebrities maintained universal appeal was because of their ability to connect with their fans through evolving technology.

Presley was the first musician to go beyond the music studio and enter the film world. Panos Panay, co-president of the company Recording Academy, said Presley’s appearances in films like “G.I. Blues” and “Blue Hawaii” “was important to pop’s multimedia development,” even if some believe it “stalled his creative evolution” as a musician.

This 1972 file photo shows Elvis Presley, the King of Rock “n” Roll, during a performance.
This 1972 file photo shows Elvis Presley, the King of Rock “n” Roll, during a performance. | Associated Press

The invention of the radio helped the Beatles reach a larger audience, according to National Museums Liverpool. “Genuinely international musical celebrity as we now think of it only became possible after the onset of the mass media, especially recording and radio.”

Regarding Swift, Rolling Stone writer Britney Spanos told NPR Swift’s outreach through social media has kept her in tune with her fans, something she’s been doing for years through MySpace, Twitter and now TikTok.

Swift’s social media presence also helps her market her music and create live interactions with fans, said music news outlet Billboards, like “personalized gifts and letters to members of the Swiftie community, secret listening parties at her house for upcoming album releases and meet-and-greets during her sold-out tours.”

Fans have taken Swift’s influence even further, creating friendship bracelets to exchange with one another at concerts, Cosmopolitan reported. The experience is based off a single lyric from her song “You’re on Your Own Kid,” which reads: “So make the friendship bracelets, take the moment and taste it, you’ve got no reason to be afraid.”

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Charisma is the indescribable quality of superstars

“He had one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life,” Nick wrote about Jay Gatsby in the classic novel “The Great Gatsby.” “It faced, or seemed to face, the whole external world for an instant and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.”

This poignant description of Gatsby’s charisma has remained a famed passage in literary history because it manages to use language to describe the indescribable quality — charisma. And it’s the same quality that Presley, the Beatles and Swift have in spades.

When Johnny Cash toured with Presley, he had a front row seat to Presley’s charm. “He had that charisma, that magic that a great performer needs to get the people right there,” Cash said about Presley in an interview.

It wasn’t just Cash who noticed this quality. “It was like he whispered his dream in all our ears and then we dreamed it,” Bruce Springsteen said, per Britannica. Presley’s charisma was derived from his iconic image (the pantsuits and slicked-back hair), but also his affect where he seemed effortlessly unaware that he was an icon.

“Elvis projected a mixed vision of humility and self-confidence, of intense commitment and comic disbelief in his ability to inspire frenzy,” Dave Marsh wrote for Britannica. Not only was Presley’s music genre-defining and he attracted a frenzied buzz of fans, his personality and persona made him iconic.

The Beatles were similar. Remember that famous picture of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road? That’s just one of the ways the Beatles were able to put their charisma on full display.

“Even things that they did in a pettish rush become emblematic: they took a surly walk across Abbey Road because they were too exhausted to go where they had meant to go for the album cover, and now every American tourist in London walks the same crossing, and invests their bad-tempered stride with charm and purposefulness and point,” BBC reported.

Of course, the Beatles’ musical innovations are noteworthy as is their musical influence on artists like Jimi Hendrix, but one of the reasons they remained popular during their day was their ability to reinvent themselves.

The Beatles first debuted in the 1960s and broke up in the ’70s, but as the styles and trends changed, they changed, too. That in conjunction with their universal and timeless music made them timeless themselves.

That brings us to the last entertainer in our trio: Swift.

In real time, Swifties and other observers have seen how Swift has carefully crafted all her public appearances to mean something and that’s also true of everything from details in her music to subtle cues in music videos.

Taylor Swift performs during “The Eras Tour” in Nashville, Tenn.
Taylor Swift performs during “The Eras Tour” at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. | George Walker IV, Associated Press

“She has almost gamified her brand, dropping hints about new music for fans to figure out,” Sarah Gambles wrote for the Deseret News.

Beyond her creativity around publicity, she’s also managed to span genres and reinvent herself to remain relevant and interesting. She does not make music only for the moment she’s in, but for the future, too.

“But by making pop with almost no contemporary references, Ms. Swift is aiming somewhere even higher, a mode of timelessness that few true pop stars — aside from, say, Adele, who has a vocal gift that demands such an approach — even bother aspiring to,” Joe Caramanica wrote for The New York Times.

That sense of timelessness permeates every aspect of Swift’s image and music: her outfits veer more classic than contemporary, her music has elements for every generation and she amalgamates different genres to create her own unique sound.

Swift’s future fate is more in flux than Presley and the Beatles whose legacies have been cemented, but as the Eras Tour stretches on, her fate is looking increasingly cemented, too.

If in 2014, Bloomberg could run a piece with the headline “Taylor Swift is the music industry,” then now, in 2023, several albums later and one of the biggest tours in contemporary music history, it may be safe to say her timelessness is on the horizon.